Professional photographer – what does it really mean?
For the past 17 years people have been telling me professional photography is dead. Why? Because technology has made it easier to take good photos. Why hire me when they can take decent photos themselves, even on their phones? Well, what I’ve come to realise over that time is that taking good photos is only half of the story of what makes a professional photographer. It’s actually the ‘other’ stuff that makes a big difference.
I was in conversation with a colleague recently. He’s an architect, and likes to take photos of projects when they’re finished – so he’s got a record of them, of course, but also as possible marketing material to add to his website. One of the things he was bemoaning was the ‘clutter’ that seems to get in the way, spoiling the shots he’s taken. He means things like unwanted signs on an external shot, or a bag or some other object that creeps into the corner of an interior. And, of course, once you spot it, it’s the only thing you see in the photo isn’t it?
That got me thinking. ‘Getting rid of clutter’ is a pretty good description of my philosophy when I’m out shooting. I spend a lot of my time carefully framing an image, excluding unnecessary details, focussing attention on the key subject matter. In an interiors shot, that might mean having to move things around so they fit in the composition (if that’s possible), or squeezing into the tightest corner to avoid an unwanted wall. (There is an unwritten law that any interior space that needs photographing, no matter how massive it is, is always too small. The walls are always in the wrong place!) On an outdoors shot that might mean lifting up the camera to avoid a parked car (or arranging for the cars to be moved); waiting until a certain time of day to avoid traffic or pedestrians; or a thousand other tactics to keep the emphasis on the subject i.e. the building. Or, in the example I’ve included below, it means a bit of editing work done afterwards.
This is a shot of a new block of apartments in the Shudehill district of Manchester. The shot was taken for brochures, online use and so on, and is to show what the building looks like. Unfortunately, on the day of the shoot, roadworks were present, as you can see in the second shot. They’re a distraction from the building ….. so they had to go. The street furniture was also removed at the same time for the same reason. If you were standing in this exact spot and looking at the building this ‘cleaned up’ version is what your brain would see i.e. no signs, cones or barriers. Your brain would be looking at the building and blocking out the clutter. Sometimes a photographer’s job is to do the brain’s work for you!
So there you go. Just one example of what it means to be a professional photographer. There are other factors too – about reliability, about getting the best out of photos with great editing – but that’s for another time.